2. Is what I learned growing up about Mary being forever a virgin true? It seems that she and her husband would possibly have other children after Jesus even though I was brought up with the idea that He was an only child and that she remained a virgin. What should Catholics believe?
4. I did a little reading on Fatima and here's what irks me: as Catholics we are to go to Mary, our mother. We pray to her. We venerate her as an intercessor. We do NOT worship her for she is not God. But, according to the second secret it seems as if Mary wanted to be worshipped--IF you take what children say as true....which the Church does. And, if all souls go to heaven as you and I (at least sometimes) believe, how do we explain Mary's words about hell?
A 1: We must be perfectly clear that Catholics worship God alone. Devotion to Mary is difficult for some people to comprehend because we have lost sight of the role of Mary in the Scriptures. Mary is accorded a very high dignity because she is the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth puts it in proper perspective when she asks the question, "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to visit me?"
It is true that Mary is not mentioned in many passages, but that does not diminish the significance of those passages where she does appear. Perhaps it would be best to return to what the gospel writers had in mind: Mary is the model of Church. Virtually everything said about Mary, particularly in the early chapters of Luke's Gospel, in John's crucifixion scene and in the Book of Revelation, is a symbol and statement of the Church. Mary responded openly and willingly to what God asked of her, and so is a model of how all of us should respond to God. If we were to replace the word "Mary" with the word "Church" in each of the above-referenced passages, we might find our own response to God being challenged at a deeper level.
Q 2: Is what I learned growing up about Mary being forever a virgin true? It seems that she and her husband would possibly have other children after Jesus even though I was brought up with the idea that He was an only child and that she remained a virgin. What should Catholics believe?
A 2: It would be good to begin with an understanding of the Gospel notion of the Virginity of Mary. The biblical scholar Bruce Vawter points out that the use of the word "virgin" in the gospels was to emphasize that the coming of Jesus as Savior was God's free gift and not occasioned by any human act. The early church Fathers, understood virginity in the same way, assuring that Jesus is truly the Son of God and born of a virgin.
The Gospels, themselves, do not address the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity either positively or negatively. It was simply not an issue for the Gospel writers. The whole point of the Virgin Birth was to focus on the person of Jesus. Since the gospels do not address the issue, there is nothing to directly oppose the idea that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. In Catholic tradition, for reasons having little to do with Jesus, the notion of Mary's perpetual virginity evolved. Even so, it is necessary to place all doctrines within a hierarchical structure--not all teachings are of equal weight, even if they are true. For Catholics, as for all Christians, what we believe about God and Jesus is paramount to our faith and much more important than what we believe about the mother of Jesus.
As for the references to the brothers and sisters of the Lord, most biblical scholars acknowledge that there is no foundation from that expression to conclude that Joseph and Mary had other children after Jesus' birth. All this does not mean that the Bible supports the notion of Mary's perpetual virginity. It simply does not dismiss it. On that issue the Bible is neutral.
A 3: First of all, I am not sure that there is a reason to try to convince people. It does not matter to me whether or not people who do not share my Catholic faith agree with what we believe. It is only important that our beliefs be valid. The issue of praying to any of the saints has nothing to do with Jesus being the mediator between God and us. Let me use an example. If you were going into the hospital to have surgery, would you not ask your family, friends, and the members of your church to pray for you? To most people that seems perfectly reasonable. In the Catholic Church we believe in the Communion of Saints, that is to say we are connected to one another in Jesus Christ, whether living or dead. Just as there is only one Baptism, and we are all baptized into the one Jesus Christ, and Jesus has been raised up, so all of us, whether on earth or in heaven are alive in Christ. Just as we ask our friends on earth to pray for us, we ask the saints in heaven to pray for us. We have another example in the New Testament at the wedding feast at Cana. When the bridal party ran out of wine, Mary interceded on their behalf, and asked Jesus to help them. People who pray to her now, or to the other saints are asking the same thing.
Q 4: I did a little reading on Fatima and here's what irks me: as Catholics we are to go to Mary, our mother. We pray to her. We venerate her as an intercessor. We do NOT worship her for she is not God. But, according to the second secret it seems as if Mary wanted to be worshipped--IF you take what children say as true....which the Church does. And, if all souls go to heaven as you and I (at least sometimes) believe, how do we explain Mary's words about hell?
A 4: It is important to note that we are not required as Catholics to believe that Mary appeared to the three children at Fatima. That is a misconception by many Catholics, because there are so many who do believe in the apparition. And, there are a number of organizations that promote devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. BUT...it is not an article of our faith. I, personally, do not believe that Mary appeared at Fatima. In fact, I have a difficult time with most apparitions. That is not to say, however, that I do not see some value in them.
For instance, the supposed appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego in Mexico was a great service to the Faith and the Church in Mexico. Most people do not realize that she did not appear as a Spaniard--a conqueror who brought the Faith to the new world. Nor does she appear as a mere native American. Instead, she has a complexion similar to what we would negatively refer to as a half-breed. She represents the mix of Europe and America. In that regard, the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe can be seen as representing the universality of Jesus and his Church. No one is excluded or considered to be of less value in the Catholic Faith, not even the “half-breeds” who are frequently rejected by both primary cultures. I believe that is very important to what the Church is and should be. And it had a profound effect on the mission of the Church in Mexico.
Aside from not having to believe in Fatima, I think it is important to be aware of some of the presuppositions that underlie the apparition. The first so-called “secret” depicts hell as below. The cosmology that hell is somehow below earth, and heaven presumably is up, is utter nonsense. Our understanding of the universe belies that notion. The second “secret” speaks of Russia being converted. Note that Christianity was introduced to Russia before the end of the first millennium. The Russian Orthodox Church has always had a strong devotion to Mary. It is true that the Russian revolution introduced a non-religious (even atheistic) government to power. But authentic Christian faith was already rooted in the country and the idea of consecrating Russia to Our Lady is, by my reckoning, a political concept, not a religious one. And, perhaps, a little arrogant.
The concept of hell presented in these so-called apparitions is one of fire with all its attendant elements. However, as Fr. Michael Himes of Boston College has pointed out, there are other concepts of Satan and damnation that come closer to the truth of evil. He points out that Dante gets it right while Milton gets it wrong. He notes that Milton embraces the traditional notion of fire, etc. in dealing with hell in "Paradise Lost". On the other hand, Dante, in "Inferno" presents Satan as being locked in his own tears, the beating of his wings freezing the tears that he sheds. On the door over hell is the inscription "Abandon hope all ye who enter here". That notion of despair is what Fr. Himes suggests is the real origin and power of evil.
For me, things like Fatima just build on a superstitious notion that does not, in fact, inspire hope.